By Jahangir Alam Akash, Bangladesh has waited 34 years for a verdict in the murder case of Bangabondhu, the father of the nation. But finally, on November 19th, our disgrace has ended. On that day, the Supreme Court upheld a High Court verdict that handed down death sentences to 12 former army officers involved in the Bangabandhu murder case, sealing the grueling and long-disrupted proceedings that had lasted 21 years. A five-judge bench of the Appellate Division, headed by Justice Mohammed Tafazzal Islam, rejected the appeals of the five jailed convicts to have their sentences commuted. The five convicts are Syed Faruk Rahman, Mohiuddin Ahmed, Bazlul Huda, AKM Mohiuddin Ahmed and Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan.
According to the court papers and media reports, Bangabondhu’s personal assistant Mohitul Islam, who had survived an attack by a gang of army officers on the night of Aug. 15, 1975, filed the case for the killings on Oct. 2, 1996. On Jan. 15, 1997, the charge sheet was filed against 20 living and four dead persons — Khandakar Moshtaque, Mahbubul Alam Chashi, Capt Mustafa and Risalder Sarwar. As all except the dead were brought to trial, the court examined 61 witnesses and heard submissions for 151 days. On Nov. 8, 1998, the trial court handed death sentences to 15 of the 20 accused.
On Dec. 14, 2000, a two-member High Court bench gave a split verdict on the trial court’s judgment: one judge upheld the death sentences of all 15 convicts, while the other upheld that of 10. The judges were also divided on which section of the Code of Criminal Procedure should be followed for the death sentence of one convict. On April 30, 2001, a third judge of the High Court resolved the matter and finally gave death sentences to 12 of the killers. Of them, the following are now in jail: Lt. Col. Syed Farooq Rahman, Lt. Col. Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan, Maj. Bazlul Huda, Maj. (Lancer) AKM Mohiuddin Ahmed and Lt. Col. (Artillery) Mohiuddin Ahmed, who have appealed the High Court’s verdict to the Supreme Court.
The six absconding are: Lt. Col. Khandaker Abdur Rashid, Lt. Col. Shariful Haque Dalim, Lt. Col. SHMB Nur Chowdhury, Lt. Col. AM Rashed Chowdhury, Capt. Abdul Mazed and Risaldar Mosleuddin Khan. The other convict, Lt. Col. Abdul Aziz Pasha, died in June 2001 in Zimbabwe, where he had taken political asylum. Of the jailed convicts, Huda was brought to Dhaka from Bangkok in 1998, while AKM Mohiuddin Ahmed was brought from the United States during the caretaker government’s rule. The other three were arrested in Dhaka. But the hearing was stalled with the change in government in Oct. 2001. After the BNP-led alliance government came to power, the Supreme Court did not hear the case for even a single day.
The killers murdered Bangabondhu, seven of his family members and three security personnel at his Dhanmondi residence on Aug. 15, 1975. Soon after the murders, their accomplice, Khandaker Moshtaque, took power as president and framed an indemnity ordinance to protect the killers. Later, subsequent military governments led by General Ziaur Rahman and General HM Ershad rewarded the killers with various diplomatic posts.
On Dec. 14, 2000, the High Court delivered a split verdict in the case. Justice M. Ruhul Amin, the senior judge of the High Court bench, upheld the death sentences of 10 convicts, while the other judge, ABM Khairul Haque, retained the death sentences for all 15 convicts. In the final High Court verdict in the case, on April 30, 2001, Justice Fazlul Karim upheld death sentences for 12 and acquitted three.
On Sept. 23, 2007, the Appellate Division bench of Justice Tafazzul Islam, Justice Joynul Abedin and Justice M. Hassan Ameen allowed the five death-row convicts to appeal against the High Court verdict, delivered in 2001, on five points. The army men sentenced to death by the sessions judge are Syed Faruque Rahman, Sultan Shahriar Rashid Chowdhury, Mohiuddin Ahmed, Khandaker Abdur Rashid, Bazlul Huda, Shariful Huq Dalim, Ahmed Shaful Hossain also named Shariful Islam, Rashed Chowdhury, AKM Mohiuddin Ahmed, Nur Chowdhury, Md. Aziz Pasha, who died after being sentenced, Md. Kismat Hashem, Nazmul Hossain Anseri, Abdul Mazed and Moslemuddin. Shariful, Kismat and Nazmul were acquitted of the charges by the final High Court verdict. The government, however, did not file any appeal against the acquittal.
Faruque, Shahriar, Muhiuddin Ahmed and Bazlul, who were in jail at the time, filed petitions with the Appellate Division seeking permission to appeal against the verdict. AKM Mohiuddin Ahmed filed a similar petition after the U.S. government deported him to Bangladesh from Los Angeles on June 17, 2007.
We should demand trials for General Zia and General Ershad. These two generals are responsible for their activities of giving prizes and promotions to the killers of Bangabondhu. Now, the nation is waiting for the trials of these war criminals.